[box cover]

The Wild Bunch: Special Edition

Sam Peckinpah Legendary Westerns Collection

Director Sam Peckinpah initially said that The Wild Bunch (1969) was just supposed to be "a simple story about what happens when killers go to Mexico." Outlaw gangs were a dying breed in 1913, and one such gang, led by aging Pike Bishop (William Holden), robs a Texas railway office. Dressed as U.S. Cavalry officers, their plan to use a parade as cover for the crime seems simple and solid — unfortunately, they're ambushed by a team led by bounty hunter Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former member of Bishop's gang. The shootout turns into a bloody massacre, with the Bunch escaping into Mexico — and their bad luck continues when they discover that their bags of loot aren't money but metal washers, a set-up by Bishop's arch-enemy, railroad tycoon Pat Harrigan (Albert Dekker). Bishop then leads his gang — Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle and Tector Gorch (Warren Oates, Ben Johnson), and Angel (Jaime Sanchez) — to Angel's village, where they find that a sadistic Mexican general has kidnapped Angel's lover and killed his father. Angel responds with mindless violence and, to save his life, Bishop makes a deal with the general to rob an army munitions train and sell the rifles to the general. With Thornton's bounty hunters on their trail, the Bunch follow through on their daring robbery but, when the general double-crosses them, the gang finds themselves with only one real choice — loyalty to their friend, even if it means certain death. The Wild Bunch was a turning point in American cinema — audiences hadn't seen a film so brutally, honestly violent, and Peckinpah's intention was not to sensationalize but, in a way, to educate. The director's much-copied editing/slow-motion technique, with gushing blood and flying sinew, wasn't inspired by a desire to glorify the gory details of death but to show the audience just how personal and agonizing such a death would be. Ultimately, the film is about the last gasp of the Old West, with the grumpy, tired Bunch representing the last lawless days of the frontier — a group of tired, bad men who choose selfless sacrifice after a lifetime of selfishness. Warner Home Video's two-disc The Wild Bunch: Special Edition replaces an earlier double-sided, non-anamorphic "flipper." This "director's cut," the same version as the previous edition, restores ten minutes of footage deleted from the film's theatrical release. The new anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) offers richer colors and a sharper picture than the previous edition, with better contrast. The DD 5.1 audio (with subtitles in English, French or Spanish on the feature only) is good as well, but not spectacular, given the original audio limitations. Disc One includes a commentary track by Peckinpah biographers Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle and a trailer gallery of other Peckinpah titles, while Disc Two features the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage" (33 min.), the biographical documentary "Sam Peckinpah's West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade" (82 min.), an excerpt from Redman's "A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico, and The Wild Bunch" (23 min.), and a montage of never-before-seen outtakes from several key sequences (8 min.), including the spectacular bridge explosion. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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